It saddens, yet doesn’t surprise me, that Prof. Peter Enns will be leaving Westminster Theological Cemetary Seminary as of August 1, 2008. You can check out Enns’s own site for the announcement as well as the WTS webpage. The statement is short and to the point. Basically, while WTS affirms Enns’s “teaching and writing fall within the purview of Evangelical thought,” it is apparently not consistent with WTS’s notion of a “confessional Reformed Seminary.”
I had posted previously on my support for Dr. Enns as well as the support of my colleague, Dr. Jerry Shepherd (WTS grad and friend of Dr. Enns). I have found Enns’s work to be refreshing and engaging (particularly his recent work, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament [Baker Academic, 2005; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com]) and wish him all the best as he moves on. I know he will have no problem finding an excellent faculty position where he can pursue his teaching and research.
This is an exciting project — I hope other similar projects will be inspired by this one so that more primary texts will be available online. From the available preview, the site should be spectacular.
Blogger extraordinaire John Hobbins over at Ancient Hebrew Poetry will be hosting Biblical Studies Carnival XXXII in the first week of August 2008 (I suspect he will have it uploaded promptly at the beginning of the month).
In order to save John considerable work, please nominate some posts today (and tomorrow, the next day, and the day after that…) It’s really easy. You have two options:
Send the following information to the following email address: biblical_studies_carnival AT hotmail.com. If you’re not sure whether a post qualifies, send it anyway and the host will decide whether to include it.
The title and permalink URL of the blog post you wish to nominate and the author’s name or pseudonym.
A short (two or three sentence) summary of the blog post.
The title and URL of the blog on which it appears (please note if it is a group blog).
Include “Biblical Studies Carnival [number]” in the subject line of your email
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Use the submission form provided by Blog Carnival. (This is probably the easier option if you only have one nomination.) Just select “biblical studies carnival” and fill in the rest of the information noted above.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Yahweh – A Moral Monster?, I wanted to interact with Paul Copan’s article written in response to the views of the so-called “new atheists.” In this post I will review Copan’s article, “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster? The New Atheists and Old Testament Ethics” (available from the Evangelical Philosophical Society website here), which rehearses many of the classic evangelical responses to the problem of the Canaanite genocide. While I will provide some of my own evaluation, I will leave the bulk of my own perspective for my next post.
I should note that Copan is concerned with responding to broader charges against the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible by the new atheists and aims to “discern the powerful moral vision of the OT” against their criticisms. My interaction with Copan will restrict itself to those points that intersect with the genocide question.
ANE Cultural Context
Copan’s first point is that “We must allow the OT ethical discussion to begin within an ANE setting, not a post-Enlightenment one.” This is certainly correct. Our world is not the world of the Bible. The ANE was a harsh world and the OT reflects this. He further argues that while the OT world is harsh and different than our world, you also find that “God is incrementally ‘humanizing’ ANE structures within Israel to diminish cruelty and elevate the status of, say, slaves and women-even if such customs are not fully eliminated.” While I would agree to a certain extent (for instance, there are a number of studies that compare the Deuteronomic Code [DC] with other biblical and ANE law codes and finds that the DC is more “enlightened” – for lack of a better term), I would also be wary of trying to paint the ANE worse so that the Hebrew Bible looks far better in comparison. That being said, understanding the harsh world of the ANE will at least help us understand the biblical portrayal of Yahweh more sympathetically perhaps. In my mind, it is also useful to recognize that ancient Israel would naturally embed their view of God in their cultural context (uh, how could they not?), and this image of God would naturally not fit our modern sensibilities (of course, this raises the question of revelation, though you could just flip the point and say that God revealed godself in ways that would be understandable to ancient Israelites).
Development & Diversity in the OT/HB
Second, Copan maintains that there are “differing ethical demands for differing historical contexts in OT Israel’s history.” Thus, even within the OT/HB there is development. The divine command to wipe out the people in the land (Canaanites et al) was a one time command at a very specific period of Israel’s history (although herem warfare did crop up again with the Amalekites and King Saul, although this was related to the conquest of Canaan; see 1Sam 15). “Genocide” was not Israel’s modus operandi. The Deuteronomic laws themselves make a distinction between “holy war” in general and war against the lands “God is giving them as an inheritance” in particular (compare Deut 20:10-15 and vv. 16-20).
Formulaic and Stylized Nature of the Biblical Witness
A third major argument Copan raises concerns the nature of the biblical witness. Let me quote him in full:
Let me add a few more thoughts about warfare here. First, Israel would not have been justified to attack the Canaanites without Yahweh’s explicit command. Yahweh issued his command in light of a morally-sufficient reason-the incorrigible wickedness of Canaanite culture. Second, the language of Deuteronomy 7:2-5 assumes that, despite Yahweh’s command to bring punishment to the Canaanites, they would not be obliterated-hence the warnings not to make political alliances or intermarry with them. We see from this passage too that wiping out Canaanite religion was far more significant than wiping out the Canaanites themselves. Third, the “obliteration language” in Joshua (for example, “he left no survivor” and “utterly destroyed all who breathed” [10:40]) is clearly hyperbolic. Consider how, despite such language, the text of Joshua itself assumes Canaanites still inhabit the land: “For if you ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations, these which remain among you, and intermarry with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know with certainty that the Lord your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you” (23:12-13). Joshua 9-12 utilizes the typical ANE’s literary conventions of warfare.
Copan highlights a number of points here. First, he notes that, biblically speaking, the Canaanites “had it coming” due to “the incorrigible wickedness of Canaanite culture.” While this reflects a biblical perspective (see especially Deuteronomy 9-10 where it says, among other things, “It is not because of your [Israel’s] righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you are going in to occupy their land; but because of the wickedness of these nations Yahweh your God is dispossessing them before you” [Deut 9:5]), it makes me a bit uncomfortable since history has made it clear that it is easy for one group to demonize another.
Second, Copan notes that the language of herem is formulaic and naturally filled with hyperbole, and the biblical text also seems to imply in a number of places the failure of the Canaanite operation. Of course, as I already mentioned, that Israel failed historically in their ethnic cleansing (or even if it is propagandistic fiction), doesn’t change the fact that the Bible portrays Yahweh commanding it. While I concur with Copan that the texts employ certain formulaic language in regards to Yahweh war, the narrative examples provided in the biblical text (e.g., Jericho in Judges 6, Saul and the Amalekites in 1Sam 15), suggest that when the biblical text talks about killing all “men, women, and children” it is not an exaggeration.
Copan then makes what he considers is the crux of his argument concerning the Canaanite genocide. Again, I quote in full:
if God exists, does he have any prerogatives over human life? The new atheists seem to think that if God existed, he should have a status no higher than any human being. Thus, he has no right to take life as he determines. Yet we should press home the monumental difference between God and ordinary human beings. If God is the author of life, he is not obligated to give us seventy or eight years of life.
That being the case, he can take the lives of the Canaanites indirectly through Israel’s armies (or directly, as he did when Sodom was destroyed in Genesis 19) according to his good purposes and morally sufficient reasons. What then of “innocent women and children”? Keep in mind that when God destroyed Sodom, he was willing to spare the city if there were even ten innocent persons. Not even ten could be found. Given the moral depravity of the Canaanites, the women were far from innocent.
In connection with the killing of children and babies, Copan argues that “death would be a mercy, as they would be ushered into the presence of God and spared the corrupting influences of a morally decadent culture.” This argumentation makes me uncomfortable for a variety of reasons, least of which it presupposes a NT understanding of the afterlife (the OT is not clear what happens after death). That being said, I am not sure how we can get around the notion of Yahweh’s/God’s rightful prerogative over human life. If Yahweh is God — if God is God — then does not he have the perrogative to judge his creation? This point by Copan brings the discussion out of the OT/HB and into the Christian Bible as a whole, since the NT also portrays God as the ultimate judge over his creation.
This, then, is Copan’s response. In my next post I will provide some of my own thoughts on the subject.
One of my summer reads that I just finished is a new book that takes a lighter — and somewhat irreverent and certainly risqué — look at the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament:
The Uncensored Bible: The Bawdy and Naughty Bits of the Good Book by John Kaltner, Steven L. McKenzie, and Joel Kilpatrick (HarperCollins, 2008; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).
Written by two biblical scholars and one satirist (I’ll let you decide who’s who!), this book is an entertaining examination of some provocative and downright outrageous interpretations of passages in the Holy Bible. The subtitle is a bit misleading in that the authors are only interested in certain “bawdy and naughty bits” of the Old Testament.
In order to make the cut (which they humorously refer to as the “Zevit Standard” since their first example was proposed by noted biblical scholar Ziony Zevit) the interpretation has to be (1) innovative and outrageous, (2) a new take on a familiar Bible passage, (3) plausible, and (4) proposed by a bona-fide biblical scholar. So what you don’t find in the book are all of the “bawdy and naughty” passages of the Bible which are clear and don’t require strange interpretations (like, for instance, the virtually pornographic/obscene descriptions of the Egyptians in Ezekiel 16:26 and 23:20 or the erotic physical descriptions in the Song of Songs. Of course, many of these “bawdy and naughty bits” are obscured by the prudish nature of modern English translations — but that’s another post!).
Some of the more outrageous interpretations from The Uncensored Bible include the following [SPOILER ALERT: skip this section if you want to be shocked when you read it for yourself]:
The “rib/bone” which God makes the woman in Gen 2:21-22 was Adam’s penis bone
The admonition to “casting your bread upon the waters” in Ecclesiastes 11:1 is a reference to ancient beer making (this suggestion comes from an article by fellow blogger Michael Homan)
Ehud escaped after killing Eglon unnoticed by the Moabites by literally going down the poop chute in Judges 3:23 (not the “porch” or “vestibule” as most modern translations render misdaron)
Isaac may have been “taking a whiz” in the field when Rebekah first saw him, according to Genesis 24:63.
The “ish” (man/angel/God) in Genesis … touched Jacob’s, er… “johnson” during the wrestling match in Genesis 38? (and this was apparently some supernatural tit for tat since when Jacob was born, he was not clutching Esau’s heel, but his wiener!)
The punishment for a wife grabbing another man’s genitals when he is fighting with her husband is not cutting off her hand (Deut 25:11-12), but giving her a Brazilian bikini wax!
[END SPOILER ALERT: Read on from here] Most of these interpretations I have encountered before, though not all of them. And while some of them are plausible and even convincing, others are a bit whacked out. The authors themselves do not agree with all of the interpretations they present; they consider some convincing while they (rightfully) reject others. There were a number of passages/interpretations that I expected to find in the book but didn’t (perhaps they are worth a blog post or two, or even a recurring series). In their conclusion the authors leave open the possibility of a sequel or two.
In case you are concerned, the authors did not write this book to bash the Bible or biblical scholarship. They are biblical scholars who “love the Bible” (p. xiii) and hope to increase their readers’ “appreciation for the richness and diversity of the Bible’s contents” (p. xiv). While this book will not be for everyone, I personally laud Kaltner and McKenzie for writing it (I wish I would have beat them to it). The value I see in a book such as this (besides its value as an entertaining read) is that it presents the Bible in a more down to earth and real way than many Sunday sermons. I think sometimes we Christians have an unrealistic (and unhelpful) view of the Bible. Pastors and teachers try to mine these ancient texts for modern-day role models or parenting tips, and I am not sure that is what the purpose of the good book is! Check out this quote from the Uncensored Bible:
Many people try to follow the Bible’s teachings so they can have a happy home. But the truth is, there aren’t many happy homes depicted in the Bible. The real inheritors of the Bible example are families who have experienced divorce, deception, adultery, and incest or have a murderer or rapist in the family. The Good Book is simply loaded with bad kin. And it’s a virtual handbook for how not to raise children. Most of us are better off doing as the Bible says, not as it shows (p. 153).
Amen and Amen! As I say to my students, one of the first steps to interpreting the Bible is to recognize that it comes from a world very different from ours. And this book helps us recognize that in a rather off-the-wall and quirky way.
In sum, I give this book two thumbs way up. If you have a slightly off-kilter sense of humor, then I highly recommend it (And if you don’t, then buy it for someone who does!)
(And, by the way, I hope the authors get their guest spot on the Daily Show; see p. xv).
So, as I mentioned in a previous post, I had the chance to review a prepublication edition of Barry Bandstra‘s Genesis 1-11: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). As a result of the nice blurb I wrote for the publishers, I received a free copy of the book when it was published. As it turns out I ended up with two free copies, and while I like to read, I find reading one at a time works a bit better.
To make a long story short, what all this means is that I have an extra copy of Bandstra’s new book — it’s actually still in the original shrink wrap! And then I thought since I have been so inconsistent in blogging for the last number of months, I wanted to reward my faithful readers who kept me on their blogrolls and continued checking for new posts (and even emailed me to see if everything was alright!).
Since I can’t give everyone a new book, I need some method of picking a winner. I could do something random like I have done before, but I figured I should somehow benefit from this massive giveaway. So here’s the deal. I will give the book to the individual who leaves the most humorous anecdote, joke, or faux pas about teaching or learning biblical Hebrew. Perhaps it was something another student did in class or a humorous way that your professor tried to teach a particular aspect of Hebrew grammar — it can even be a humorous resource for teaching Hebrew (a comic, short video, whatever!). I’m pretty much open to anything related the Hebrew that will make me smile and/or chuckle — I just want to give away a book. After one week, I (and perhaps my TA) will decide on a winner. And then presto! I will send you Bandstra’s book for absolutely no charge!
So let the free book giveaway begin!
(For those waiting with bated breath for my next “Yahweh – A Moral Monster?” post, I have it pretty much written and may upload it later today. Right now I have to go shopping with my teenage daughter… so pray for me! )
The New York Times has an article on the tattoo trend among Jewish people. The article debunks the notion that if you have a tattoo you may not be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Despite the growing popularity of tattoos among Jewish young people, Jews traditionally have been against tattoos, primarily based on the injunction in Leviticus 19:28 (see this post for an interesting discussion of this verse from a Jewish perspective).
Most of the emails I receive about Hebrew tattoos come from Christians, among whom there does not seem to be any qualms about getting inked.
In the Hebrew Bible section I have now included Biblia Hebraica Quinta project. As most of my readers are probably aware, BHQ is the new critical edition of the Hebrew Bible that is being produced under the auspices of the United Bible Societies. It follows in the tradition of BHS and BHK before it, with some exceptions. One change in approach that I am not entirely in favour of is the new policy against conjectural emmendations (i.e., a proposed reading that does not have external textual support, but does have intrinsic probability). While I am not a big fan of conjectural emendations (although I have always found the plethora suggested by Driver to be at the very least entertaining), they have a place in the practice of textual criticism. There are some places in the Hebrew Bible where the MT doesn’t make sense and other texts do not help. This is when a good text critic will suggest an emendation. At any rate, there are currently three fascicles available:
Biblia Hebraica Quinta, fasc. 18 – General Introduction and Megilloth (Gen. ed. Adrian Schenker et al.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2004). This was the first fascicle of BHQ available. The editors of the individual biblical books are Jan de Waard (Ruth), Piet B. Dirksen (Song of Songs/Canticles), Yohanan A. P. Goldman (Ecclesiastes/Qoheleth), Rolf Schäfer (Lamentations), and Magne Sæbø (Esther). Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
Biblia Hebraica Quinta, fasc. 20 – Ezra-Nehemiah (ed. David Marcus; Gen. ed. Adrian Schenker et al.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006). Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
Biblia Hebraica Quinta, fasc. 5 – Deuteronomy (ed. Carmel McCarthy; Gen. ed. Adrian Schenker et al.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2007). Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com
Another new Hebrew Bible of sorts has just been published by Zondervan:
This is a nice leather-bound version of the Hebrew Bible (based on Leningrad, minus the critical apparatus) with a variety of additional helps, including form-specific glosses of all Hebrew words occurring 100 times or less (twenty-five or less for Aramaic words). It also helpfully shades proper names that occur less than 100 times. I’m sure this last feature will save beginning students countless hours of frustration since they won’t be trying to parse a proper name. Looks great for the beginning student or anyone who is rusty with their Hebrew vocabulary.
I have reworked my discussion of Hebrew grammars, distinguishing between reading grammars and reference grammars and including a number of new resources.
Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible
A new series of reading guides to the Hebrew text that deserves highlighting is The Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible series. This series guides the reader through individual books of the Hebrew Bible (or significant sections thereof) underscoring its grammatical and syntactic features, typically with reference to modern linguistic approaches. There are currently three volumes available:
Tucker‘s handbook on Jonah is perhaps the most accessible for students who have completed a year of biblical Hebrew. He includes a translation of the book of Jonah followed by clause-by-clause and word-by-word syntactic analysis. Tucker’s discourse analysis follows in the tradition of Rocine and Longacre. I would think this Handbook would be ideal for second year students who want to work through Jonah on their own, though I am almost considering using it near the end of my first year Hebrew class when we typically work through Jonah (I think it may be too much; it would probably be better to use it in a third semester class where the students have already translated Jonah in order to introduce discourse analysis).
Bandstra‘s volume on Genesis 1-11 takes a different and somewhat unique approach to the text — and it isn’t for the faint of heart. Bandstra introduces students to functional grammar through and in-depth analaysis of the opening chapters of Genesis. The 40-page introduction to functional grammar in and of itself is worth the book’s price. I had a chance to work through the manuscript prior to its publication and found the functional approach both intriguing and fruitful. I would recommend this work for more advanced students and scholars.
Williams’ Hebrew Syntax
Finally, one other grammar I want to highlight is John C. Beckman’s thorough revision and expansion of R.J. William’s Hebrew Syntax: An Outline.
This is a major revision and expansion of Williams’Hebrew Syntax. While the new edition preserves the best of the second edition (at least based on my comparisons thus far), Beckman makes it far more useful for students and scholars alike. Students will like the interlinear translations of examples and everyone will benefit from the expanded definitions, improved organization, the cross references to other major grammars, and the new layout. Another useful resource connected with this grammar is a companion website that includes, among other things, a detailed outline (see HebrewSyntax.org). This edition marks a significant improvement that will ensure Williams’ Syntax remains a valuable grammar for years to come.
I came across this image as I was going through some old email; a student made it a number of years back. It certainly gives quite a different spin on the Akedah — the binding/near sacrifice of Isaac — as found in Genesis 22!